GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations Human Rights Council voted on Thursday to appoint an expert to report on how countries are promoting freedom of association and assembly -- a move hailed by the United States.
The vote is a victory for President Barack Obama’s administration, which brought the United States back into the 47-member council with a promise to focus on traditional Western human rights concerns.
The council has been criticized by some for an excessive focus on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians while overlooking abuses in other parts of the world.
China, Russia, Cuba, Libya and Pakistan all expressed concern at the wording of the resolution, which was proposed by the United States and European, Latin American, African and other states.
“That is exactly the type of issue that the United States had committed to bring to the top of the human rights council agenda,” U.S. Ambassador Eileen Donahoe told reporters after the resolution was approved.
The countries voicing concern at the resolution all stressed their support for the basic principle of freedom of assembly and did not force a vote on the question.
“We take that as a mark of great success for this body to have come to a consensus agreement on this matter,” she said.
The resolution calls on governments to respect the right of individuals and non-governmental organizations to assemble peacefully and associate freely, for instance in elections and trade unions.
Election protests in Iran, political demonstrations in Moscow, and marches by women dissidents in Cuba are the kind of topic the expert could be expected to report on, Donahoe said.
The five countries that objected to the resolution said it risked duplicating the work of other independent experts set up by the council, or of the International Labour Organization, the U.N. agency that monitors trade union rights.
Russia and Cuba also said the freedom to associate was not absolute, as it could be abused to promote racism, running counter to other U.N. principles.
Reporting by Jonathan Lynn; Editing by Charles Dick